25 March 2021

Parliament House staff list demands for a safe workplace

| Ian Bushnell
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March4Justice rally outside Parliament House.

Thousands of people recently rallied outside Parliament House as part of March4Justice to demand action to change sexist behaviour and to prevent sexual harassment and assault. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

Parliament House staff members have called on the Federal Government to ensure they have a safe workplace, in an open letter listing a number of demands.

The letter from Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) members comes in the wake of the Brittany Higgins rape allegation and revelations of male Coalition staffers performing lewd acts at Parliament House.

The staff members’ demands are:

  • An independent and confidential complaints process, which is victim-centric, that staff can have confidence in, and ensures there are consequences for poor behaviour;
  • A safe work environment that guarantees workers’ workplace health and safety rights, that includes mandatory training for parliamentarians and staff, safe reporting mechanisms, and data reporting to workplace health and safety committees or equivalent;
  • Provisions to mitigate gendered violence and sexual harassment agreed to in the Members of Parliamentary Staff (MOPS) Enterprise Agreement currently under negotiation, and in the current workplace health and safety policies for the Department of the House of Representatives, Department of the Senate, Department of Parliamentary Services, Department of Finance, Parliamentary Budget Office, and other Australian Public Service (APS) agencies until they can be inserted into relevant industrial agreements;
  • Appropriate, specialised and ongoing support services for all workers in parliamentary workplaces; and,
  • The immediate implementation of the 55 recommendations of the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Respect@Work: Sexual Harassment National Inquiry Report.

The letter says Parliament House has significant power imbalances, which at times allows bullying, sexual harassment and sexual assault to fester and go unpunished.

“We deserve to be safe and respected in our workplace,” says the letter.

“The revelations of widespread gendered violence of the past month have been deeply disturbing and have impacted many of our colleagues.

“There are now multiple reviews and processes underway examining workplace culture in Parliament House and associated workplaces.

“It is incumbent on the government, all political parties, parliamentarians, parliamentary departments, and APS agencies to act now in the interests of workers in Parliament House. We want action.”

The CPSU members met with ACTU president Michele O’Neil and CPSU national secretary Melissa Donnelly, who said members across all departments who work in Parliament have had enough and are demanding action for a safe workplace.

“Respect and safety at work is non-negotiable,” said Ms Donnelly.

“Much has been written about their experience, but these are their demands. It’s time for the government to stop talking and start acting.”

Ms O’Neil said the Morrison Government has been dragged to the realisation that the workplace culture in Parliament House is toxic and dangerous, especially to women.

“This is not news to workers who go to work every day in a high-risk workplace where sexism is rife, sexual harassment is common and sexual assaults are alleged to have happened,” she said.

“These demands, if met, would provide clear and confidential reporting lines, consequences for actions, training, support and obligations to mitigate risk.

“It also asks the Morrison Government to implement the recommendations of its own report into sexual harassment in the workplace, which has been sitting in a drawer in Christian Porter’s office for more than a year.”

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